Islamophobia in Germany

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They call themselves Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West or Pegida. They feel threatened by what they call Muslim attacks on the Christian culture of Germany. They believe that immigrants, and particularly Muslim immigrants, are a menace to German culture and national identity. Many Muslim leaders say that since the anti-Islam Pegida movement appeared their communities are facing new problems just because they are Muslims. In Dresden, where Pegida started, demonstrations have been growing from Monday to Monday. Press TV’s investigative documentary “Islamophobia in Germany,” approaches the locus of this group, i.e. Dresden. Pegida's leaders reject press inquiries and refuse to give interviews alleging that the press misrepresents Pegida as a rightwing extremist movement. When our film team covered a Pegida rally, some protesters went way beyond shouting ‘lying press’; they identified us as foreigners and began yelling hateful racist insults. The interesting point is that ever since they began, the Pegida protesters have upset Germany’s political scene, provoking condemnation by national political leaders, and in her New Year address Angela Merkel urged citizens to reject Pegida.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: They call themselves Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West or Pegida. They feel threatened by the islamizacion of the Christian culture of Germany… as their leader Lutz Backmann claims.

In Dresden, where Pegida started, demonstracions have been growing from Monday to Monday… but the movement has had trouble gaining traction elsewhere in Germany.

Since October 2014, every Monday, angry Islamaphobic rallies have been staged in Dresden, Eastern Germany, by a new grassroots organization called Pegida or Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West.

Pegida supporters say people need to "wake up" to the threat from Islam,and the numbers attending these Islamophobic rallies in Dresden have grown, but so have counter-demonstrations by Germans alarmed by what they see as xenophobic and who want to defend tolerance and diversity.

SOUNDBITE [English] Cornelia Walter, Community Activist, Dresden: “We are convinced that it is really dangerous what they are talking about because they mobilize a lot of people for things that are really against people who are not from here, it is against people who came from other countries, who came from other places in the world.They tell us they are against Islam because they don’t want that it becomes a question in the way like it is in Berlin or Cologne. The point is fear; the point is fear on all sides.”

Narration: Pegida has attracted a variety of rightwing and extreme-right groups, as well as ordinary citizens who are alleged to be worry about Islam and its impact on German society.

SOUNDBITE [English] Robert Kusche, Civil Rights Activist, Dresden: “They’re coming from the villages around Dresden, they’re coming from Dresden, they have different backgrounds, of course, people from the far-right are marching within these demonstratios also, a lot of people called the identitaeren, which is quite a nationalist movement also is part of this Pegida. But also, I would say, ordinary people who have jobs, but only more or less jobs I would say in the middle class, upper class jobs, they are thinking that they are competing with refugees with these migrants who are coming here.”

Narration: Pegida supporters believe that immigration, and particularly Muslim immigrants are a menace to German culture and national identity; and according to a study commissioned by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation, a shocking 57% of Germans now see Islam as a threat to life in Europe.

SOUNDBITE [English] Sonia Zayed, Research Assistant, University of Frankfurt: “I consider myself a German Muslim. My identity is Muslim because I practice my religion as a Muslim and I see myself as part of the German society so that is why I’m German. And I’m the third generation here in Germany and even then I’m not accepted as a German, and my kids are the fourth generation and speak just German but they are not accepted in this society.”

Narration: Despite the reality that one in five Germans today have a migration background racism and discrimination against people perceived to be “strangers” still prevail. Biased attitudes are especially strong toward Muslims, discriminated in social, economic, and academic settings.Many Muslim leaders say that since the anti-islam movement appeared their communities are facing new problems just because they are Muslims.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [German] Mounir El Horchi, Abubakr Mosque, Frankfurt: “Yes, in every way, especially among the women. They are afraid to go out, and say they are treated differently than before the anti-Muslim protests. Especially women, since they wear headscarves and can easily be identified as Muslims.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Sonia Zayed, Research Assistant, University of Frankfurt: “My scarf is my identity, I think it’s a religious obligation for me to do so, like Catholic nuns do so, like even Jewish have their formal dress code and they do so, so this is a part of my religious identity and I show this to the society as well. And I work now at the university, as you see me now, and we don’t have any problems with the head scarfs it’s just the qualifications that is important here at the university.”

SOUNDBITE [German] Mounir El Horchi, Abubakr Mosque, Frankfurt: “We want women to go out, to work and be independent. But a lot or people have the idea that in Islam we men oppress women, we want to change that idea.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Sonia Zayed, Research Assistant, University of Frankfurt: “Personally I’m not oppressed but the problem is that society, because of the media coverage, the people think that all Muslim women are oppressed, now the thing is, I think, as a Muslim woman you have to go out and show the world that we are not oppressed. I work, like I told you, I’m politically active so I’m not seeing myself as oppressed woman.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Mark Chalil Bodenstein, Professor of Theology, University of Frankfurt: “Islam is here and Muslims are here and if you look at the reponses from the churches on these Pegida actions, you see it in Cologne, you see it in Frankfurt, that churches turn off the lights when these demonstrations are on to show we are not part of this thing and our Christian heritage is not defended with these Pegida marches.”

Narration: The terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris may boost support for anti-Islam movements like Pegida, although the majority of European Muslim political leaders and organizations have firmly condemned the attack.

SOUNDBITE [English] Hans-Juergen Puhle, Political Scientist, Frankfurt: “One thing which is kind of a natural reacton of this movement is that they are xenophobic against foreign people, and many of the immigrants are Muslims and so people do not differenciate that much between a normal Muslim who sells vegetables in the barrio and the terrorists.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Mark Chalil Bodenstein, Professor of Theology, University of Frankfurt: “Of course there is discrimination, there are studies about these things, in finding flats or in finding work in schools also, and different places you find discrimination. I think in general is just a general discrimination of foreigners of strangers it’s not Muslim oriented its discrimination of other people.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Sonia Zayed, Research Assistant, and University of Frankfurt: “Well, you know sometimes I realize that people are afraid of me and even in the bus, or even when I go to the shops or something, they are afraid of talking to me. These are people who don’t even know Muslims at all, who don’t even have any people who are in contac with any Muslims, I think all what they see in the media or in the TVs or in the press, you know, and then they think all the Muslims are bad.”

Narration: Pegida supporters want Germany to curb immigration, accusing politicians and government officials of supporting immigrants and failing to listen to their problems.

SOUNDBITE [English] Anett Lentwojt, Tour Guide, Dresden: “They protest that more and more and more foreigners come inside the country and their own problems are not heard by the government, and the government has only an ear for the problems from the foreigners, and so they say hey we live here and please hear my own problems.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Reinhard Mueller, Journalist, Frankfurt: “The politicians in Berlin look very sharp to this movement because, of course, there is a feeling within the German people that immigration is a problem and we have 300 thousand per year, maybe, asylum seekers but only very few of them are real who have the right to stay here, what to do with those people.”

Narration: Last year Germany received more than 180,000 asylum claims - compared with127,000 in 2013. Germany accommodates more asylum seekers than any otherEuropean country.

The Dresden Pegida rallies began as a protest against new shelters for refugees and have attracted growing numbers of demonstrators. In fact, the Monday Pegida marches have transformed Dresden into a destination for Islamophobes of all stripes, with people traveling to the Saxony capital from across Germany just to take part.

Dresden sits in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. It’s one of Germany's 16 political centers and the capital of the State of Saxony. But unlike most big German cities, Dresden has a low level of immigration, and little experience of living with cultural difference.

SOUNDBITE [English] Anett Lentwojt, Tour Guide, Dresden: Foreigners we have only three per cent here, and I think the citizens from Dresden are a little bit angry against the foreigners, they are angry because they lost their work and so on, so now they are angry when the people from other countries came here.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Cornelia Walter, Community Activist, Dresden: “I don’t think that the whole town is a racist place that it’s not true, but there is a kind of tradition in Dresden that helps factions of the righ-wing politics to build up something like Pegida here.”

Narration: Pegida was launched as a Facebook group by Lutz Bachmann, a 42-year-old Dresden chef-turned-graphic designer who insists he is not racist. He has admitted to past criminal convictions, including for drug-dealing, and has spent time in jail.

Some of the first to join Bachmann’s movement of “defenders of the West” included people linked with motorcycle gangs, also football hooligans linked to the far-right scene have joined Pegida marches.

SOUNDBITE [English] Reinhard Mueller, Journalist, Frankfurt: “Twenty thousand people maximum come together every Monday evening and it had supporters in German big western cities, but I think the peak is behind us already; and is sort of protest against Islam, so say the organizers, but many people who come there if you ask them say they are against this and that, domestic politics, international politics, and maybe against the German party system, but it’s not a broad protest against a certain thing, I think many things, many political attractions come together, and again it’s not a German wide movement.”

Narration: Pegida's leaders reject press inquiries and refuse to give interviews alleging that the press misrepresents Pegida as a rightwing extremist movement. 'Lügenpresse' - 'lying press' - a phrase from Nazi marches in the 1930s - is often shouted during Pegida rallies. And when our film team covered a Pegida rally some protesters went way beyond shouting ‘lying press,’ they identified us as foreigners and began yelling hateful racist insults.

SOUNDBITE [English] Robert Kusche, Civil Rights Activist, Dresden: “We have seen Pegida marches since October and we are also monitoring hate crimes in Saxony and we have seeing that besides the marches, demonstrations, they are more attacks on foreigners and immigranst so there is really a relation. I would not say that the Pegida, like Pegida movement is doing this, but this issue what they are talking about this anti-Islamic, anti-migration issue really empowers this kind of people who are willing to use violence against migrants and this is what we are seeing.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

Narration: Germany is home to 4.5 million Muslims, and studies show that in Europe Germans are especially intolerant of Islam and the majority says not to have had any contact with Muslims.

SOUNDBITE [English] Sonia Zayed, Research Assistant, University of Frankfurt: “This is a form I think of anxiety and I think that is the problem. I can go to mosque, I can pray even at the office here, I can pray, I fast so I can do this freely and I do it by choice and this country allows me to do so. Like I said this bad coverage is like showing a bad Islam and this is the problem why the people have like a bad image about Islam.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Mark Chalil Bodenstein, Professor of Theology, University of Frankfurt: “I don’t think it’s the society as a whole which admits to be anti-Islam. I think the mass media in general try to find a middle way, and specially if you look at the activities of Pegida and Sevida, and all these things, you can clearly see that the larger media like the newspapers, television, are in opposition to these anti-Islam movements.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Sonia Zayed, Research Assistant, University of Frankfurt: “There is certainly room for Muslims and we take part in this society, we work here, we study here, we go to school here so we are taking part even in political activities, we are taking part in this society so that is important to have this right, although we have these obligations as well and the constitution grants us this religious freedom as well.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Selcuk Dogruer, Central Mosque, Frankfurt: “Welcome to the central Mosque in Frankfurt, we are in the pray room, here we are praying every Friday more than a thousand 500 people. The mosque is a spiritual place, it’s the central place for the Muslim life so the Muslim people are coming to the mosque for pray and also in their leisure, and we have a lot of festivities in our mosque and this is a tradition in the history of the mosque.”

Narration: Frankfurt’s Central Mosque is located in the most ethnically diverse neighborhood and the most foreigner-friendly, but since the appearance of the anti-Islam movement some residents are complaining that there are too many foreign immigrants.

SOUNDBITE [Turkish] Selcuk Dogruer, Central Mosque, Frankfurt: “There are people who are afraid, because there are individuals who hate people of other religions or origins, but in this neighborhood people are at the center of our lives, regardless of whether they are Muslim, non-Muslim, Turkish or German, this is the diversity that Frankfurt offers.”

Narration: Frankfurt’s Turkish community is the largest immigrant group, numbering about 150,000, and most are Muslims. Many have lived in Germany for decades and are well integrated.

SOUNDBITE [English] Oktan Erdikmen, Journalist, Frankfurt: “They are living like any people in this country, if you just look out of the window you can see thousands of Muslims that are just crossing the street.They are working as doctors at the hospitals, they are teaching German language to the German kids in schools, they are also teaching at the universities, I’m writing for a journal, I’m writing for a newspaper, I mean the Pegida people are wrong when they say that Muslims in this country are only asking for social help they are also contributing to the country, they are paying taxes. So the question should not be how Muslims live in Germany because they are also living like the other people in this country live, I mean what we do differently from other people is that we are going to the mosque.”

Narration: Mr. Erdikmen says Pegida's rallies are not surprising as it’s not a new issuefor the Turkish community, which has been exposed to discrimination for years inGermany.

SOUNDBITE [English] Oktan Erdikmen, Journalist, Frankfurt: “Maybe not as a reporter but as a person I feel differently than before, because when I talk to people in the street I always have in mind that I’m going to ask something to anybody on the street but I just think this person could also be a Pegida supporter.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

Narration: Islamophobia tops the list of reasons why young German Turks leave Germany and go back to Turkey.

SOUNDBITE [English] Oktan Erdikmen, Journalist, Frankfurt: “I see myself here always as a foreigner, but after this Pegida movement I’m thinking it more, I’m thinking on coming back to my country. I think the thing that the Pegida supporters do not accept is that a big change in the culture is a very natural thing, and that the German culture that we have today in Germany is not the same thing that we had in Germany 300 years ago. The world is changing, the language is changing, the culture is changing, but the people who support this Pegida do not want to accept that the culture also can be changed.”

Narration: The anti-islam movements in Europe are destined to defeat because of their racist and anti-immigrant position. In fact, Pegida has not really spread beyond Dresden where it began. Instead what we see now are protests against the anti-Islam movement in cities all over Germany and even in Dresden itself. Tonight the anti-Pegida protest – Dresden für alle, Dresden for Everybody - is an evening of music and peace just 300 meters from where Pegida holds its usual Monday rally.

SOUNDBITE [English] Cornelia Walter, Community Activist, Dresden: “We are not a fixed group, we are only a group of some people who do various things in their real life, who are working at the museum, and at the town hall, some are musicians other artists. We want that Germany stays an open country for all people, we need that openness, it’s important for us there are not two ways about it, we are living in Europe we are not any more living in a small country that is closed to itself.”

Narration: Germany today confronts complicated and controversial issues surrounding its 4.5 million Muslim population including terrorism, the building of mosques, female dress, Sharia law, and the pressures of immigration and multiculturalism.

SOUNDBITE [English] Mark Chalil Bodenstein, Professor of Theology, University of Frankfurt: “People decides to be more Muslim than before because if they feel discriminated they say then I have a reason to be Muslim, then they have a right to discriminate me so is just a decision to be more Muslim because of religious discrimination.”

Narration: Meanwhile, back in Dresden, the 20th Monday Pegida rally comes to an end with an angry and explosive confrontation between pro and anti-Pegida factions separated only by a thin police line.

SOUNDBITE [English] Hans-Juergen Puhle, Political Scientist: “Every where you have new populous movements protesting against the established party democracy, protesting against the institutions and against political leaderships as it is being exercised and conducted at the moment.”

Narration: Ever since they began, the Pegida protesters have upset Germany’s political scene, provoking condemnation by national political leaders, and in her New Year address Chancellor Angela Merkel urged citizens to reject Pegida.

SOUNDBITE [German] Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany: “Once again, people are marching on Mondays shouting: “We are the people.” What they actually mean is: “You others don’t belong here because of your skin color, your relligion.” So let me say to anyone who attends such demonstrations: “Don’t follow their call because mostly what they have in their hearts is prejudice, coldness and even hatred.””

SOUNDBITE [English] Sonia Zayed, Research Assistant, University of Frankfurt: “And this are people who are very close minded people, I mean, I think they don’t read a lot, they don’t travel a lot, they don’t have a lot of money, there is a kind of closeness, you know, and this would be a problem to inter act with other people.”

Narration: Pegida has inflicted great harm on Germany’s international reputation. Its neighbors and allies are asking whether Germany is stumbling back into the darkness of xenophobia and racism, and rightfully so. Many Germans are asking the same question these days.

   

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